Bert Hill spent a recent afternoon helping feed people at the Salvation Army's free lunch program on South Texas Avenue in Atlantic City. He ladled pasta, moved plates of pumpkin pie slices to the serving area, and greeted people with a huge smile as they came up to get the meal.
Hill, of Hamilton Township, knows how important it is to help those who need it. The 45-year-old, who has some intellectual and developmental disabilities, has gotten assistance over the years from the Arc of Atlantic County, where he is in the supported living program.
Hill has worked in housekeeping at Caesar's Hotel & Casino for 18 years, and lives independently, but gets between five and 20 hours of staff support each week to help him manage his financial and medical needs, Arc Communications Associate Bethann Spiegel said.
Hill was one of 41 Arc clients in the supported living program who happily fanned out across the county Dec. 7 to volunteer in social service agencies for the Arc's "Make a Difference Day," along with 24 Arc staff members.
The Salvation Army's Major Tom Pierce, who runs the Atlantic City operation with wife Major Joan Pierce, said the extra help came at a great time.
"We were kind of short-handed in the kitchen, because some of our kitchen staff goes on the bells," meaning ringing bells for holiday donations, Tom Pierce said. He said new volunteers are welcome any time.
At the Salvation Army, Hill worked with Arc client Wallace Cuff, 54, of Mays Landing in Hamilton Township; and Arc supportive living counselors Mary Beth Williams, of Galloway Township, and Erin Raively of Lawrence Township.
Clients and their counselors also helped at Sister Jean's Soup Kitchen and The Atlantic City Rescue Mission, both in Atlantic City; Jewish Older Adult Services, in Margate, Kathleen's Closet Thrift Shop (of the Community FoodBank) in Egg Harbor Township; in assisted living facilities around the county, and at the Egg Harbor Township Historical Society Museum.
Over at Sister Jean's Soup Kitchen, a group of Arc clients helped prepare and serve about 500 lunches.
"Whatever they want us to do, we'll do," said assisted living client William Rodriguez, 44, of Mays Landing, as he moved large trays of bread from the kitchen to the dining area. Rodriguez also volunteers year-round helping move furniture at the Arc's thrift shop in Northfield, he said.
"People always do a lot for the Arc, and we want to let them know how much we appreciate it," Rodriguez said.
Sara Washington, 57, an Arc client in the supported living program who is a grandmother and lives on her own in Mays Landing, agreed.
"Thank God for the Arc," she said. "I don't know where I'd be without it. Because of it, I have a lot of friends." Her gratitude makes her want to help others, she said.
"I love to work with people, too," she said. "I love to serve food, get people off the street and make sure they're all right."
There are about 60 people in Arc of Atlantic County's supported living program, said Spiegel. Many have jobs and some have even purchased their own homes, she said.
The group also runs 11 group homes around the county, serving about 50 people with more severe disabilities, where clients are supervised 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she said. Arc also has 25 supervised apartments in five apartment complexes, serving about 40 people. Staff is onsite around-the-clock in apartments, she said, but residents there have more privacy. There is a waiting list for all of its supervised housing options, Spiegel said.
In addition to the residential housing programs, Arc provides a recreational program that provides sports training, dances, activities and trips to about 300 people annually; a family support program that provides respite care for families caring for loved ones at home, serving 300 people; case management, which helps about 100 people annually navigate the social services system; and vocational services, including a day program for placing clients in volunteer jobs and a supported employment program for job coaching, which together serve another 100 people a year.
Helping out during the organization's "Make a Difference Day" It isn't the only holiday volunteering Hill does. With the help of supported living counselor, Chivonne Hitchens, of Absecon, Hill bought presents for two Arc families he adopted through the agency's Holiday Partners program.
"It's very fun. I'm being Santa Claus. Ho, ho, ho," he joked.
He has adopted one family a year for many years, and this year wanted to increase it to two families, for a total of six people, said Arc Social Services Director Nicole Terzakis.
Like most people who adopt a family, he spent about $200 to $300 per family out of his limited income, Terzakis said. He loves to shop for kids.
"Bert makes sure to get a family with at least one little kid in it," Terzakis said.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
•The Salvation Army provides a free hot lunch at its facility at 22 S. Texas Ave., Atlantic City, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and a bag lunch Tuesdays and Thursdays, from noon to 1 p.m. Call 609-344-0660, ext. 101.
•Sister Jean's Soup Kitchen at Victory First Presbyterian Church, 1013 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City serves breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday from
•6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call the Rev. John Scotland at 609-266-7942.
•The Arc of Atlantic County,
•6550 Delilah Road, Suite 101,
•Egg Harbor Township.